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IAF’s Fighter Aircraft Strength Dwindles Under NDA-Led Government

by Rupinder Kaur
Ahead of the 2014 general election, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in its manifesto, had highlighted how India’s “sensitive neighbourhood” and “internal security issues” had led to loss of the Indian Air Force fighter aircraft squadrons and that there was a need to “review” and “overhaul” the then-existing system. However, in the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament, the Defence Ministry informed that the government “will not have added even one squadron to the IAF in its five-year term,” according to a Business Standard report by Ajai Shukla.
While answering a question by BJP MP Anurag Thakur, who asked for revised estimates of 2017-18 budget for the ministry and allocation for the air force, the Defence Ministry said that the “IAF will have 32 fighter squadrons and 39 helicopter units by 2020.”
The Business Standard report said that BJP had fielded 34-35 squadrons by 2020 after winning the 2014 election.
The reason listed for the decline was the government’s “inability” to replace three squadrons of MiG-21s that will be phased out by 2020. The situation will worsen by 2025, said the report, as 10 IAF sqaudrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft will retire by 2024.
The government has procured two squadrons of Rafale fighter jets from France while two squadrons of Tejas Mark 1 and four of Tejas Mark 1A, being built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), are still under process.
the HAL is supposed to deliver two Sukhoi-30MKI squadrons, after which its supply will end in 2019.
Two Rafale squadrons will also be supplied between 2019 and 2022, along with six Tejas squadrons, but the report said that the induction will be offset as two Jaguar fighter squadrons will retire in the early 2020s.
With these 10 squadrons entering and 12 retiring (10 MiG and two Jaguars), it will be a tenuous task for the IAF to maintain its 32-squadron fleet.
The report puts forth alternatives for the the government to adopt in this regard where it could place the "proposed Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) on the fast track" or procure five to 10 single-engine fighter squadrons.
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